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Need a bank in sweet Thailand? Try Siam Commercial or Bank of Ayudhya or Kasikorn or Krung Thai or Bangkok Bank. You'll want to keep your baht safe. The cost of living is low. You won't spend that much money in Thailand. Living costs mean banks in Thailand make a ton of dough.


Banking/Money/Cost Of Living


"There's a very sound reason the Tourism Authority of Thailand keeps around the description of Thailand as the 'Land of Smiles.'  As you are encouraged to spend billfold after billfold in Thailand, the locals are smiling all the way to the bank."  Doug Knell, Doug's Republic


What you will be encouraged to keep spending in Thailand is, of course, their national currency, the baht.  The currency was originally named the tical.  However, when foreign shoppers heard the name, they laughed.  Tical sounded more like the name of a type of wood or stone than a currency worth spending.  Thai authorities wanted to get people in a mindset to use, gamble, and tank their national currency.  "How would people feel after they bought things with a trendy currency?" they asked.  And there they had their answer.  The currency would be called the baht as a testament to go out and buy.  Most Thais preferred to spell the past tense of buy as 'baht' anyway as a more literal phonetic transcription.  So Thais bought the baht name hook, line, and sinker in the nineteenth century, though the tical persisted as the official name in English on the bank notes up until 1925.  At that point, Thai senior officials felt that enough beta-testing on the name had been done to prove the new name viable.

The Thai baht, the king of currencies

The royal-feeling baht comes in 5 different notes, each with a unique color, but all with the same young portrait of King Bhumibol.  The 20B is green; the relatively rare 50B is blue; 100B red; 500B purple; and the 1,000B note brown.  There are beautiful coins to go with those kingly notes.  As you cruise about the kingdom, you'll be spending 1B, 2B, 5B, and 10B coins.  The 1B and 2B coins used to look almost identical and plenty of consumers, including myself, were bilked by handing merchants 2B coins we thought were 1B.  King and company cleaned up the act and altered the color of the 2B coins to gold to make them distinct.  

Less common are satang coins.   100 satang equal 1 baht.   On rare occasions, you'll be billed something like 845.25B.  You're expected to cough up tiny gold-color satang coins.  845B won't suffice.   The satang coins come in 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50.  There's hardly an opportunity to spend 1's and 5's.

I've been stuck with satang coins more than once and when I tried to combine, say, four 25 satang coins and count them as 1B, had them refused.  Few people want to go near a satang.   In the case of a bill of 845.25B, the merchant would have to take the 25 satang coin if he was that anal about not rounding.    No one expects satang to last.  Once Thais figure out what rounding is and how to do it, the satangs will be sent to that money graveyard in the sky, the same place East German marks, Yugoslavian dinars, French francs, German marks, and Irish pounds now reside.
 

Check the exchange rate of the Thai baht
Select a currency and click SUBMIT to see how many Thai baht that currency buys

 
Convertibility

The baht used to be non-convertible.  That means, to non-bankers and non-financial analysts, that the currency wasn't freely traded on international currency markets.  Travelers entered Thailand with any amount of dollars, yen, or pounds they pleased, and the money was converted at banks or money changing outlets into baht.  At the end of one's stay, the traveler could convert the baht back into one of these international currencies.  Sometimes, a receipt was asked to prove that the baht had been bought legally.  Most of the time, a receipt was never asked for.

We have heard that the baht is now freely convertible, but the realities on the ground don't support this.  You can still swap out any excess baht into international currencies at moneychangers.   You'd likely have to visit several moneychangers to swap out large amounts, as moneychangers don't seem to have loads of foreign cash on them.  We've also heard that there's a 50,000B limit on the amount of baht you can convert into foreign currency.  Since we've never needed to send 50,000B or more out of Thailand, this has never been put to the test.  What we can say, from firsthand knowledge, is that when someone we know tried to wire out 30,000B to another Asian nation through a bank, the bank asked why this money needed to be sent.   If the reason had been "to squire money away in another currency abroad," we doubt the bank would have approved the transaction.  Official documentation is required to trade the baht in spot and forward markets.  Thus, the baht is not truly 100% convertible.

We do not recommend taking baht out of the country in the hopes that you can swap them back out in your native lands.  We've seen the baht being traded at decent rates in the countries bordering Thailand plus Hong Kong and Korea (only at the airport).   As a general rule, the further you get away from Thailand, the harder it is to change baht and the worse the rates become.   If you get more than a few thousand kilometers from Thailand, no one will have ever heard of the baht. 

How To Bring Over Funds

During Doug's world jaunt in the 1990's, he received cash like this: he showed an American Express card to an American Express office and wrote a personal cheque for $1,000 plus a 1% commission.  The American Express office or its representatives then sold Doug $1,000 in American Express traveler's cheques.  The American Express card acted as both a membership card to earn this privilege as well as collateral in case the personal cheque didn't clear.   The cheques were then exchanged at banks in the countries entered. 

We imagine you could still do this, but why?  Traveler's cheques were useful in an era when getting money from Country A to Country B was costly and one didn't want to travel abroad with a wallet stuffed with cash.  The traveler's cheques allowed the voyager to carry large sums of cash effectively insured.  Today, ATM machines are found everywhere, even in poorer countries.  Nearly all Thai ATM machines feature menus in English and offer competitive exchange rates.  Your bank at home may charge you a fee and in 2009, all Thai banks implemented a 150B charge per transaction involving foreign ATM cards.   All in all though, given the convenience, the ATM method is still superior to the older traveler cheque method, even if in the end, the traveler's cheque method saves you $10-15 for every $1,000 exchanged.

Banking in Thailand


Thailand banks
Who's going to get your money? (l to r):
Bank of Ayudhya, Bangkok Bank, Bank of Thailand, CIMB, Kasikorn, Krung Thai, Siam Commercial Bank, Siam City Bank, TMB

You used to require a work permit to set up a bank account in Thailand.  Not anymore.   Plenty of retired folk live here all or part of the year, and many others buy property which requires them to funnel money over.  Now, all you need to show is your passport.

For the casual traveler, a Thai bank account is unnecessary.  You'd save 150B every time you withdrew money from an ATM (as long as you used your own Thai bank's ATM), but then you'd spend money to wire over the money in the first place, and once the money is in baht, it's harder to get it out of the country.  It only makes sense if you're living here on an ongoing or permanent basis. 

The biggest bank in terms of total assets is Bangkok Bank.  Krungthai Bank, more than half owned by the Thai government, comes in as the second largest.   Then you have Siam Commerical Bank, Kasikorn Bank, TMB, and the Bank of Ayudhya.   Sticking with one of these common banks should prove convenient.  You'd be able to find branches of them all over Thailand.  There are a number of foreign banks which only have a branch or two in Bangkok.  This is probably not what you're looking for.  

Cost Of Living

Usually, whenever you have a high standard of living, you have a high cost of living.  We can take that statement a step further.  In many countries where the standard of living is abysmal (i.e. various African nations), the cost of living is quite high, as anything that would provide upper class ease to someone must be imported. 

Here is where Thailand delivers.  It has both a decent standard of living -- not Swiss or Swedish caliber, mind you -- while also providing a low cost of living.  Thailand is not as cheap as it used to be.  Depreciating values of Western currencies vis a vis the baht plus rising baht prices have taken Thailand off the ultra cheap destination list.  It's still cheaper for what you get than South America, Central America, and most of Africa.

Thailand seems to have two parallel economies.   In one economy, you have products and services that cater to Thais.  These could be one-room 'apartments' that rent for as little as USD 60 per month.  Or local restaurants where you can have a full meal for USD 1.50.   The second economy caters to Westerns and wealthy Thais.  This economy sells USD 3.00 scoops of ice cream, brand name jeans and shirts and shoes for USD 70 and up, and luxury condos for USD 500,000 if not more.   A neighborhood bakery charges over USD 2 for a slice of delicious chocolate cake.  That won't seem like a lot of money to anyone dining at bakeries in New York City or London, but it does seem expensive over here.  The typical Thai won't be buying it.

Cost of living Thailand 

Anything which goes beyond the basics will be relatively or absolutely expensive.  The basics would be things like a simple non-brand shirt, serviceable shoes, basic meals, local beers and whiskeys, locally manufactured food items and pastes, local meats, rice, buses, motorbike rental and cheaper model car rental, and basic hotels.   Beyond means brand names, imported foods, 5-star hotels, premium car rentals, and other creature comforts.  A pair of Levi jeans will cost more in Thailand than it does in the USA.  Clearly, there is a brand premium being charged, because all of these Western brands are typically manufactured in China to begin with, and sometimes you'll see a bargain stall setup temporarily in the middle of a shopping mall hawking name-brand clothes overstocks without the name-brand labels for prices between USD 3-10.  Beyond would also include 'luxuries' like DSL-internet with plans starting as low as USD 25, not insanely cheap, or air conditioning.   Household appliances like washing machines, bedroom sets, desks, and plasma TV sets would cost the same or quite a bit more than what you'd pay at home.  Even if the price is the same, it will seem higher in Thailand because the relative cost will be higher.  In fact, that's how you start judging if something is reasonable or not, based on its relative cost.

A real life example:  in the town where I live, it costs about USD 3 flat rate (no meter) to take a taxi 5 km from my house to the center of town.  While that may seem cheap, it's not relatively.   In Bangkok, the flagfall rate in a taxicab is slightly more than USD 1 and that same 5 km journey done through little traffic would cost half.   The same taxi driver charging USD 3 would charge USD 14 for a trip to my girlfriend's son's school 12 km outside town.  For almost the same price, three could take an air-con minibus to Bangkok, a journey of around 250 km.  This makes it simpler to decide if something is 'fair' for you.  USD 14 can buy three people a nice Indian meal, a very good deal.  Is the taxi ride of equal value to you as the Indian meal?  If not, then the taxi ride is overpriced and you're better off spending a bit more time riding a motorbike out there. 

For most coming to Thailand, the cost savings are not fully realized.  By coming over and staying solely at 5-star hotels (which don't get me wrong, do offer some splendid bargains nowadays), eating in fancy restaurants, and taking private cars, you'll still be saving money compared to a trip to Europe, but not saving one helluva lot.  And if you book tours and accommodation from your home country, be prepared to watch most of what you saved go into the travel agent's pockets. 

Some sample costs below, in baht:

Item Cost (baht)
Toyota car rental, per day 800-1000
Cheapest hotel room, with air-con and bathroom attached 600
Movie ticket 150
Cheap flight ticket, Bangkok to Chiang Mai 1600
Thai massage, two hours 500
Meal out for two, Thai food, mid-range restaurant 350
Meal out for two, European food, mid-range restaurant 800
Taxi to Suvarnabhumi Airport from center of Bangkok, including tolls 270-350
Bowling (1 person) 150
Table fan 300

 


 

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Insights From A Travel Mastermind

 Want to bank in Thailand? Your spoilt for choice. Siam Commercial Bank, Bank of Ayudhya,Kasikorn, Krung Thai, and Bangkok Bank are possibilities for you to park your baht. The cost of living in Thailand remains low. You'll save money because of low living costs and that means more money in banks in Thailand.